Sports provides us with these special people more than anything else in life. People let you down but athletes can amaze us.
Kentucky is trying to become only the seventh team, and first since Indiana in 1976, to win the NCAA basketball championship undefeated. They would be the first to do it at 40-0.
In combative sports even the greatest of fighters have lost. Ali, Tyson, Silva, St. Pierre, Frazier, all had setbacks.
The striving for perfection can be consuming and leave us in awe when that rare achievement is completed. Be it former heavyweight champ Rocky Marciano, or current ring and cage sensations Floyd Mayweather Jr and Ronda Rousey. They are so dominant, apparently peerless, it makes even their entrance captivating.
Not to rush UFC welterweight Ryan LaFlare into such heady company, for he himself isn’t unrealistic about where he is though he is perfect.
He is 11-0, 4-0 in the UFC, winning all those by unanimous decision. A good start and the competition has been more challenging with every victory. LaFlare though, is at another phase of a fighter’s life where perfection is almost a must. A rising star in the ranks who needs to continue if he is to get the notice of being worthy as a future contender. It’s a precarious stage indeed. A loss won’t end things but it might drop him from the top 15 UFC welterweight spot he deserves.
In what he calls “my biggest test,” he fights Demian Maia Saturday night in Brazil. Maia who once rose to a middleweight title shot against Anderson Silva and currently number 7 in the welterweight ranks. He is that tough, respected foe who increases the credibility of the next man to beat him. The 31 year old LaFlare is at the time in life and career where the moment to embrace is right in front of him. He is past the two surgeries to repair a torn ACL on his right knee, the last coming in July four years after the first one. In all, he’s spent over two and half years sidelined.
“I try not to think about it. Instead I still got a streak going and training is going well. There are changes almost every time from fight to fight, I continue picking up new techniques, studying the game.”
He also doesn’t dwell for now on what a win over Maia might mean, that will come if it does. It’s that Long Island upbringing, that sense of hard work and being prepared that he learned early, eventually leading to a state wrestling title and an outstanding career at Nassau Community College where he was a teammate of another gritty, successful Long Islander, current UFC middleweight champ Chris Weidman who is a perfect 12-0.
“There is that pride. I remember watching Matt Serra win the UFC title, and there’s Phil Baroni and Jay Hieron, of course Weidman, all Long Island guys who influenced me. It’s a sense of community.”
LaFlare studied them all, he is meticulous in learning and experimenting. He was that way when Bas Rutten and I first met him very early in his career when he had a part time job with CompuStrike recording strikes, take downs, submission attempts for our television broadcasts. Then as now, he is quiet, confident, but unassuming and quick, very quick with his thought process and reflexes. He picked up a few things here and there from those fights. Always thinking about how this move was or wasn’t successful.
His hard work has paid off so much, yet it hasn’t gotten LaFlare to the point he feels he should be and several predict he will be. Again aside from a loss, the injuries and rehabilitation are the most difficult to deal with in attempting to stay perfect.
It would be melodramatic to call this a make-or-break opportunity. Perhaps it is more of an important stage in a so far perfect career for another top notch Long Island fighter. He will be far from home, but closer to that other stage of staying perfect, and on course for top 10 status and all that can happen from there.
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